Yesterday, I hit a wall.
The governor’s announcement about school closures came in the midst of a barely-holding-it-together scenario in which I was desperately trying to concentrate on a work project with a rapidly approaching deadline, while simultaneously untangling the mystery of adverbs for my sixth grader. When my seventh grader innocently asked if I would listen to her read the “quarantine poem” she just wrote, I lost it.
On the cusp of tears, I ran to the basement, slammed the door, and screamed, “I CAN’T DO THIS!”
And I’m not using “scream” here as some kind of poetic device or metaphor. This was an actual top-of-my-lungs, tears-in-my-eyes scream.
I. Can’t. Do. This.
It was unsettling for my husband, who happened to be working in the basement at the time. But it felt good, and it helped. A little.
You see, I think I’ve been operating under the misconception that I’m supposed to adapt to this “new normal.” That if I’m being flexible, patient, positive, responsible, disciplined, determined, (fill in the blank with the unreasonable expectation of your choice) enough, then this bizarre, apocalyptic, terrifying scenario we’re living in, will somehow feel normal.
Or that I can make it feel normal by doing it RIGHT.
In the first week of quarantine, I reveled in the novelty of a week at home with my family. We went on walks. We played games. We enjoyed a few fires in the fireplace.
In the second week, I ordered chalk paint and flowers. I wondered how many projects this quarantined period would allow me to check off my long list of home improvement to-dos.
Last weekend, I ventured out to Target. Because I’m pretty sure my kids are expecting the Easter bunny to show up, even if she’s wearing a mask and toting Lysol. Scott has so far done all of our shopping—waiting in lines at Costco at 8am, standing six feet apart from customers in line, purchasing the one pack of toilet paper rationed per consumer.
This was my first time in a public place since the beginning of quarantine. And there was nothing novel or normal about it.
The store was eerily quiet, except for the weirdly cheerful employee positioned at the door to announce that while Target may have limited supplies, they are still open. Barely. Starbucks was black. Customer Service was blocked off. Another employee hurriedly ushered used carts into a sanitation area, where she meticulously wiped them down.
I headed straight for the Easter section with resolve to get what I needed and get out. The other shoppers I passed wore masks—some wore bandannas that covered most of their faces, others also wore gloves. Determined not to breathe in each other’s direction, we avoided eye contact and focused on diligently maintaining six feet of glossy tile between us.
COVID-19 has shown us how interconnected we are as human beings—between cities, states, and across oceans. And yet protecting ourselves from it requires isolation, separation, the opposite of connection.
I have friends who are grieving missed:
I have friends stuck at home in situations they’d rather not be in.
And no amount of flexibility, patience, positivity, discipline, determination (fill in the unreasonable expectation of your choice), is going to make any of that any better.
This is not normal. The self-imposed expectation that I show up 100% to my full-time job, patiently homeschool my kids, make three healthy, nutritious Pinterest-approved meals a day, enjoy uninterrupted (and unending) time with my family, and—oh yeah—emerge from the wreckage of the next several weeks with chalk-painted furniture and newly planted flowers, is completely unreasonable.
I. Can’t. Do. It.
And here’s the kicker: the only person expecting me to do it is me.
Last night, when I finally finished work at 8pm, I went upstairs to the kitchen, where Scott had fed the kids leftovers for dinner while he also worked at the dining room table. The evidence of distance learning (laptops, power cords, empty smoothie glasses) were strewn across the table; dishes were piled up in the sink; there were crumbs on the kitchen floor.
I started the belabored and resentful process of cleaning up after everyone else. And then I stopped. “You know what?” I said out loud. “I’m going to leave the crumbs on the floor.”
Scott looked up from the dining room table. “Um. Okay?”
This is not a normal time. And I am not a perfect person. No one is. Maybe acceptance of that means that adverbs stay a little confusing and deadlines don’t always get met. Maybe sometimes the crumbs stay on the floor.
Maybe that’s okay.
Maybe this unprecedented period of time isn’t about chalk-painting furniture, planting flowers, or getting straight A’s. Maybe it’s about finding connection in cities, across state lines and oceans, in any way that we can.